Global engineering, construction, and project management firm, Bechtel National and affiliated companies have reached a $125-million agreement with the U.S. government resolving allegations brought by a trio of whistleblowers that they made false statements and false claims to the Department of Energy while performing contract work at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Richland, Wash.
The U.S. Department of Justice supported a False Claims Act lawsuit filed by Gary Brunson, Donna Busche, and Walter Tamosaitis, who worked on the Waste Treatment Plant at the Energy Department’s Hanford Site project. The whistleblowers accused Bechtel National Inc., Bechtel Corp., URS Corp., and URS Energy and Construction Inc. of not fulfilling their contractual obligations to the federal agency in performing sensitive operations involving the safe disposal of nuclear waste.
From 2002 to the present, the Energy Department has paid these defendants billions of dollars to design and build the Hanford Site Waste Treatment Plant, which will be used to treat extremely dangerous radioactive waste currently stored onsite.
The contract required materials, testing, and services to meet clear standards for nuclear quality and safety. According to the lawsuit, the defendants violated the False Claims Act by charging the government for services that failed to comply with the expected standards.
In particular, the government alleged that the defendants improperly billed the government for materials and services from vendors that did not meet quality control requirements, for piping and waste vessels that did not meet quality standards, and for testing from vendors who did not have compliant quality programs.
The U.S. also alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities in violation of the Byrd Amendment and various contractual and regulatory requirements, all of which prohibit the use of federal funds for lobbying activities.
“The money allocated by Congress for the Waste Treatment Plant is intended to fund the Department of Energy’s important mission to clean up the contaminated Hanford nuclear site, and this mission is undermined if funds are wasted on goods or services that are not nuclear compliant or to further lobbying activities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
The Justice Department has not yet said how much of the recovery it intends to give the whistleblowers as an award for their role in exposing the fraud. Their award can amount to $31.25 million – 25 percent of the total recovery, under the provisions of the False Claims Act.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice